The headline-stealing Middle Eastern tour of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, which included a historic meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, has dramatically increased the pressure on the Bush Administration to regain the initiative in a part of the world that traditionally has been America’s foreign-policy turf.
All eyes are now on the fledgling team of Secretary of State James A. Baker III and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to see just how President Bush’s men will seek to parlay George Shultz’s eleventh-hour decision to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization into a full-fledged peace initiative.
One option is to build on Europe’s approach. Since his Geneva declaration, Yasser Arafat has been promoted as a statesman--a man, many Europeans say, who is capable of coming full circle from outcast terrorist to world-class peacemaker.
The problem is that the Europeans have been playing to the wrong audience. They’ve done virtually nothing to address the concerns of the citizens of Israel--the only people who can deliver what Arafat wants.
And Israelis are hopelessly deadlocked over whether they can believe Arafat’s Western press conferences or his associates in the PLO who continue to tell the Arab world that any settlement with Jerusalem is only the first phase in achieving the ultimate goal of the total"liberation of Palestine.”
As Israel’s staunchest ally, Washington is in a unique position to promote a gesture that could convince a majority of Israel’s Likud supporters that a new dawn could be upon the Middle East.
The United States should publicly urge the moderate Arab states to rescind openly the infamous 1975 U.N. General Assembly Resolution that equates Zionism with racism.
For Israelis and world Jewry, there is no more hateful or harmful document. It has fueled anti-Israel rhetoric and fanned the flames of anti-Semitism in countries traditionally bereft of anti-Jewish manifestations. For the Arab countries who claim that they acknowledge the reality of Israel and want to see peace in the region, the gesture would cost virtually nothing. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco would not have to play their “recognition” trump card prematurely , yet such a move would strike a blow against Muslim extremists and reassure Israelis that times have really changed.
Instead of falling back on traditional strategies, Secretary of State Baker should encourage King Hussein of Jordan and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to launch an Arab version of glasnost with the Jewish state. Rescinding a statement that has caused more harm to Israel than the novel “The Satanic Verses” will ever do to any Islamic society will have as profound an impact on Israelis as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit did. And no Israeli politician could or would stand in the way.
With or without the intifada , the overwhelming majority of Israelis operate on two principles: They need and want to live in peace; they control 7,400 square miles surrounded by 3 million square miles controlled by 22 Arab countries. Their obsession for secure and defensible borders is understandable. What they’re looking for is a sign that the Arabs are finally serious about peace.
If President Bush can encourage the moderates to deliver, Camp David II could be in the making--with Israel’s Likud leading the way. Without it, the psychology of extremism and the likelihood of a disastrous war will grow.